Letter to the Editor, by Paul Fenna-Roberts

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A few years ago I had what I thought was a wonderful opportunity to return to my home town of Rio de Janeiro.

Work commitments required me to travel to Brazil to go offshore to an FPSO. I flew into São Paulo and had to stay overnight due to the Rio flight being cancelled. By very weird coincidence, when I went through immigration and security, it was noticed that it had been exactly thirty years since I departed from Brasil. I had actually gone to the non-Brazilian desk and was told that even though I was using a British passport for entry, I should have gone to the Brazilian desk since my passport stated I was born in Brazil.

The next day I flew to Rio and landed at Santos Dumont airport being met on arrival by a taxi company arranged by our client and taken to the hotel on Avenida Atlântica on Copacabana beach.

Before I could go offshore, I had to wait two days. Since I was staying in a hotel in Copacabana, I walked over to Leme to see the first apartment I lived in as a young child as well as the location of my kindergarten “Jardim da Vovozinha”. This incident was when I first felt very uncomfortable.

The hotel staff had told me to not go on the beach after dark and not to wander anywhere unescorted. I did say that since Rio was my birthplace and my city, no one was going to stop me going anywhere at all.

I then walked to Ipanema to another apartment we lived in when I was in my pre-teen years and was horrified to see security fencing and razor-wire on top.

I was flooeded with memories of Arpoador that was just around the corner from our apartment, my youth riding strange bicycles with a motor on the front that rubbed on the front tyre to move the bike at what seemed like an incredible speed. I recalled later years and memories of driving my “FUSCA” Volkswagen beetle, Teresopolis, Niteroi cricket club, Gordini Interlagos sports cars (similar to a Renault Alpine car), surfing at Arpoador, and hanging out in Barra da Tijuca at Macumba, playing golf at Itanhanga, Gavea and Teresopolis, my trips to Manaus, and going inland up the Rio Negro, seeing Bahia, Iguaçu, among so many other memories.

Walking further still, I went to Leblon and found two apartment buildings that we lived in and both had double security fencing, CCTV cameras, security guards and other measure enhancing security. One of the security guards was actually armed. The beautiful marble entrance steps were enclosed in the security fencing and I felt that it was a completely different place to the one we lived in so happily many, many years before.

Once back in the hotel and after a couple of beers, I felt really terrible and absolutely heartbroken since Rio was just a different place compared to my adored memories. A person in the hotel, having discussed Rio “then and now” showed me photographs of the pollution in the Guanabara bay and Barra da Tijuca that was never there when I lived in Rio.

I also had the impression that no one really cared much about anything but their own cocoon wrapped life.
What a terrible feeling!

I really feel horrible about the whole experience and so broken-hearted as a result. Much that I do want to, I have not been back and do not think I will ever return.


Paul Fenna-Roberts


  1. My family returned in 1972 after leaving in 1956. My father had ripped up his green card as he thought he’d never leave Brazil again. After 2 days in Rio he started the paperwork to return to USA. It took 6 months to be able to leave. As a teenager I loved 1972 Rio but I can see it wasn’t the Rio of 1956. We lived in Copacabana. I go back and visit every few years but it gets worse and worse. Filthy, poverty and crime ridden. Now a days I am ashamed to admit I am Brazilian.

  2. I admit, Copacabana has seen better days. However, it appears you placed so much focus on what was perceived to be wrong or different and not on the positive aspects the city presently offers. The degree of security in any locale only reflects oppressors fear of those they oppress or exclude. Residents in most cities have heightened security mechanisms in place, just not so blatantly. But Lighten up. Very few people, places and things are the same as they were 30 years ago. It’s about adapting to the constant changing conditions in this thing we call life. Enjoyment can never come from a place of fear or derived from the appearance of things on the surface. Give yourself permission to enjoy and appreciate what is. Stop feeling horrible. Go back to Rio and try again.

  3. Maybe if the author stuck around and participated in building community in his beloved home town rather than pining over his lost privileged innocence he might actually contribute to a better Rio.

  4. Meu Deus! Do you think that apartments in Manhattan or Miami Beach lack security measures? In Rio, installing razor wire atop walls is an lower cost alternative to building even higher walls, as is done outside apartment buildings in the big cities of more prosperous countries. If you stayed at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in mid town Manhattan, I’m sure the staff would caution against walking along the East River or in Central Park at night.

    Rio has become a much safer and tourist friendly city since the late 1980s when my wife and I first visited. Copacabana is a good neighborhood. Ipanema and Leblon are excellent neighborhoods.

    Granted, the level of street crime in Brazil is on the rise as the economy slides into recession, but I think Mr. Fenna-Roberts is expecting Rio to have more of a small town feel than is realistic.

  5. Nice letter.Carefree days in Rio are pretty much a thing of the past,apart from Barra which is still relevantly safe.There days the ocean is clean and places such as quebra mar which are unspoilt.

  6. Brazil was destroyed by socialism.

    Socialism is inherently corrupt.

    Brazilians “can not find God’s favor” because they refuse to address the rampant, corrosive racism that infuses “cultura brasileira”.

    Nao ha vergonha para o sem vergonha,

    “Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be” — Stefan Zweig

    “Brazil is not a serious country” — French President Charles De Gaulle

    O brasil nao consgue vencer contra o racismo, corrupcao, sub-emprego, pois o brasileir seja incapaz de auto-analizar a sua situacao num jeito honesto, O brasileiro prefere negar que um tal problema existe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

seven + 5 =